Where else would a hi-tech beast with a taste for the ultimate in newness
feel more at home than on the streets of the Big Apple? Unfortunately for
the shakers and movers of the nineties, this emigrant of Bikini Beach is no
vegan. He'll try to swallow anything from Range Rovers to news anchors.
And all the poor little fellow wants, when you get right down to it, is a
suitable spot to lay his eggs. Isn't it the most natural thing on earth to have
the nesting instinct? Surely, family values should take precedence in the
mind of the pre-millennium parent (as we know them) and achieve a degree
of empathy for this post modern mayhem mother. But, no, everybody wants
to blast the asexual lizard out of existence. This species has very little
chance in a world fearful of the unknown and unaccepting of the unfamiliar.
Despite the fact that he's so green. How do you like those omelets?
'Godzilla © copyright Tristar'
Yes, folks, that team that brought you Independence Day has another treat
in store for you with this mad romp through the streets and tunnels of New
York. Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich have put together a script based
upon the creature originally created in 1954 (oh, so long and many films
ago) by Toho Co., Ltd. which not only brings the beast up to date with the
modern world, but enthralls all those seated or unseated (with or without
popcorn) with thrills and twists on this joyride. These boys know their way
through the funhouse of the cinematic plot sure-footedly enough to avoid
the pitfalls of boredom or predictability. Fun and excitement is what it's
about and fun-filled excitement is what you get for almost two and a half
hours Eastern Standard Roller Coaster Time. (Those of you who like "in"
jokes, keep your eyes and ears open to spot lots of them. - e.g. Dr.
Tatolpolous is Broderick's name, but also the man who created the creature
effects. A man bent on self destruction? The Mayor of New York is
named, and looks something like a certain namesake, Mayor Ebert. And it's
about time we had someone like that in office, too.)
Dr. Niko Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) is shaking up worms near
Chernobyl when the American secret service arrives to demand his help on
a bigger project (to say the least). The cute, cuddly, intelligent, soft spoken,
and lovable (as usual) Broderick plays the dedicated scientist (is this what
happens to a boy who plays War Games when he grows up?) destined to
save the world from a fate worse than King Kong. As Broderick himself
says, "I like to try different film genres. Although I've done films like War
Games and Ladyhawke which had a lot of effects, or Glory which was
massive but in a different way, I'd never done a movie like Godzilla
before." Matthew's such a really nice guy.
Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo) is a non-start journalist who is kept back
by the macho male-powered TV news industry and most especially her
"colleague" anchor man Charles Caiman (Harry Shearer) who intends to
keep all the limelight for himself. Not seeming especially bright, but
certainly sufficiently ambitious and devious, she casts caution to the winds
with absolute disregard for Niko's reputation, as well as forgetting the
painful crush on him she's been carrying around for endless years (in fact,
ever since she left him to pursue the horizons of her own career), and makes
yet another strike toward her ultimate goal by stealing a videotape
containing top secret information that Niko has thoughtlessly left laying
around his tent. However did these people get into these positions?
Hank Azaria steals more than a few scenes as he plays Victor "Animal"
Palotti, the luckiest reptilian paparazzo on earth (talk about cleaning
between your toes), whose face makes a stretched expression that only he
(or a CGI) could possibly make. Obviously, the longer this man works with
the Simpsons, the more illustrative he becomes.
And mysteriously introduced from the very beginning as an insurance
investigator (well, wouldn't that alone make anybody suspicious?) is
Phillipe Roche (Jean Reno) who, as we later discover, is really working for
a foreign secret service (well, wouldn't that make anybody even more
suspicious?) Reno is no novice (to say the least) to the silver screen
(considered by many to be the hottest property in French film), but is finally
becoming a more familiar face to larger audiences internationally following
his recent appearances in Mission: Impossible and The Professional.
Needless to say, the most fascinating aspect of the film (from behind the
scenes) is the methods utilized and discovered to deal with the new
Godzilla. The typical mode of tracking a digital creature in space, Z-
tracking, which uses a sphere and a cube for identification and spatial
orientation, were not equipped to deal with something like this creature.
Visual Effects Supervisor Volker Engel says, "What we did was to utilize a
tracking system, using a Zeiss surveying tool, so we could create a CG
environment in which we have all these points where the buildings actually
are and can put the creature into this CG world. The Zeiss tool is essentially
an architectural measuring device; you know exactly where the buildings
are, what their altitude is, where you exactly have to place Godzilla so he
can move down the street. That helped us a lot."
The amount of confrontation that takes place in shadow and darkness not
only enhances the suspense, but undoubtedly assists in making the effects
more believable. If one recalls the fascinating FX work done by Rob Bottin
on The Howling, the convincing factor and bridge to acceptability were
enhanced by the dark surroundings which ultimately covered a multitude of
flaws. The next step to the bright lights wasn't made until An American
Werewolf in London. We've come a long way since that time (a phrase that
bares repeating every six months nowadays), and Godzilla is the latest fun
rollercoaster ride. Unfortunately, instead of creating a new look for an old
monster, the team seems to have opted for a cross between the Ty Rex
(head) and the Raptor (body), now so familiar from Spielberg's CGI classic,
and makes one feel slightly as if they have entered the lair of the familiar
instead of the realm of the new.
DP Ueli Steiger, a key figure in the realization of the final product, explains,
among his various choices was the stock size, "The reason to shoot with
Super 35 is that it is easier to get the equipment, and the lenses are lighter.
On a film like this, when we had so many cameras rolling on many different
locations, that was something to consider." Continuing, he adds, "The other
important thing is that Godzilla is a film in which much of the frame will be
digitized, whether that be the creature or different elements. Since we only
used half of the negative area as we shot it, we could actually reposition the
frame quite easily and adjust it to the creature. So even the shots with actors
in them could be treated like plate shots; we could do moves in the frame,
we could tilt up and down to accommodate for the size of the creature."
The labyrinth of New York is fascinating as GZ winds his way away in
desperate flight between the not-too-bright lights of Broadway and Herald
Square. The insect-like Apache helicopters and armadillo-like tanks, not
forgetting the jeeps and humvees, emphasize the jungle feeling and, after
all, whatever else N.Y. may be, it remains a jungle. If the residents of this
world city thought they had a problem with rats in the subway, they had no
idea what was in store for them when our foreign friend arrived on their
Dutchman Jan De Bont also considered taking over the role of director on
the Godzilla project at one point, as some of you may remember, once he
had finished Speed (1, of course), but things seem, as often in movieland, to
have gone differently.
Godzilla has finally arrived on everyone's shores...or Gojira, as the case
may be. Watch out for the snap of his tail!
© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett